Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

The Firm Law Library as a Business

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The past 10 years has seen law firm librarians reinventing themselves as technology introduced new ways to support their firms, using skills they developed as information professionals complimented with new technology skills.  Many law librarians rose to the challenged and excelled as their roles changed.  Today law firm library directors are finding their roles changing yet again as they, like the other administers in law firms, begin operating their departments as a business.

Any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you that a business will not be as successful if they don’t do the proper planning for the future and measuring results.  As law firms have grown larger, the structures they need to operate profitable businesses have grown as well.  One of those structures is operating based on strategic planning, creation of action plans based on budget, and measuring for success.  In response, some law firm libraries are developing strategies/objectives, fleshing out plans, and measuring success with metrics.

The successful law firm library strategic plan follows the firm’s overall strategy.  Each section of the plan addresses a firm strategy and states goals and objectives for supporting that strategy.  For example, a firm may decide that they will use targeted marketing as a means to grow business.  The libraries plan would list “Increase support for targeted marketing” as a strategy and then list the types of objectives they will meet to support the firm’s goals. They could be:

  • Improve access to external information about prospects and existing clients
  • Develop the research support for a competitive intelligence initiative done in concert with Marketing
  • Create improved access to comprehensive background materials used to support pitches to clients and prospects

Whatever objectives are included, the library would work with their library committee, or whatever reporting structure the firm has, to define them and obtain approval.

Once the firm approves the library’s strategic plan, the next step is to develop actions to use in meeting the objectives.  This is where the library works with their clients to determine the best course of action.  For example, actions for the competitive intelligence initiative might include:

  • Work with Marketing and firm lawyers to develop a list of the type of tasks the firm needs to market and sell their services (e.g., respond to RFPs, prepare for lunch with prospect)
  • Obtain access to research products that are available to learn more about the prospect and the firm’s competitors in relation to the prospect
  • Develop best practices for doing the research they need to do to support the their task

Having put a strategic plan in place, the final step in planning is to evaluate the outcomes, determining if what has been done is working, and make changes as necessary.  This is done more efficiently if metrics that measure success have been laid out in advance.  For example, initiatives like competitive intelligence could have the following metrics:

  • The number of times lawyers ask for this type of research service
  • Anecdotal evidence or quantitative feedback on the impact this type of research made to the success of the task and improvement of the process

Many law firms today do not look to their librarians for this type of planning.  Often the librarian is involved at the last minute to provide research support.  This is unfortunate as engaging librarians in planning, even if the need for research hasn’t been identified, will improve outcome.  It’s been said, information is power.  A firm that expects the library to operate as a business entity, will realize the value it can provide.

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